Prime Minister on Friday, in announcing the establishment
of a commission of enquiry into, among other things, the procurement
practices and methods of operation of Udecott, said he did
so because it was the first time someone had made a clear
and specific allegation that could form the basis for
a commission of enquiry (COE).
He was speaking of the allegations by MP Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj
made that very afternoon that in-laws of Calder Hart and his
wife were beneficiaries of a $368 million contract.
As a consequence of the allegations, the Prime Minister said:
I am authorised by the Government to announce
the establishment of the COE.
The timing of his announcement around 7 oclock on Friday
night raises several questions, both of good governance and
the respect/or lack thereof that the PM shows to his ministers.
The whole debate emanated from a motion by the Government
for the formation of a Joint Select Committee (JSC) with a
mandate to enquire into the operations of Udecott.
The Leader of Government Business, Minister Colm Imbert, introduced
the motion and gave his reasons for supporting it.
He waxed warm about the mischief in the media
about the JSC and Udecott.
Then came Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and his hour-long presentation,
interrupted by a statement by Minister of Education Esther
Le Gendre and the tea break.
Mr Maharajs contribution was no doubt powerful and persuasive.
He spoke of private investigations he had had done in Malaysia
on certain firms that originated in that country that had
been awarded contractsor at least one significant contractby
He spoke of the perception of bias in the minds of the public
of a JSC made up of members of Parliament looking into the
operations of a state company.
The PM interrupted to enquire: was he saying the JSCs provided
for in the Constitution to look into the operations of ministries
and state enterprises were ineffective/perceived as biased?
Mr Maharaj was not to be deterred. Those were general kind
of enquiries, whereas here you were dealing with specific
allegations of a former minister of housing in the current
Mr Maharaj concluded his presentation well after 5 pm. Then
came the Attorney General, who spoke for an hour or so.
Mrs Annisette-George made a case for the appointment of a
JSC rather than a COE.
She spoke about the powers the JSC would have, but her focus
was really on the costhow expensive a COE would be.
Presumably, the cost of a JSC would be nil, since MPs sitting
on it would do so without further compensation, and the Parliament
staff would provide the administrative and secretarial services.
Up to this point, the Governments position was certain.
It was unequivocal. After all, they had brought the motion.
They had had the opportunity to caucus during the tea break,
but there had been no softening of their position, as evidenced
by the AGs contribution.
Then Mr Manning got up to speak (out of turn after the AG,
but the Opposition gave way).
He did so for over an hour, at the end of which he announced
that the Government was persuaded to appoint a COE. He announced
detailed terms of reference and the name of the Chairman.
It is all well and good for the PM to say he was authorised
by his government to announce the formation of the COE, but
could he have been?
Was this not a unilateral decision and not one collectively
made by Cabinet? Indeed, that would have been impossible,
given the sequence of events.
Just minutes before, you had a fighting display by a senior
member of the Cabinet arguing for the JSC, rather than a COE.
Then in one fell swoop the PM undermined all of the arguments
of his AG. What had changed after the AG spoke? Nothing.
Mr Maharaj had completed his presentation and made his revelations
before that. The Government also knew before they came to
the Parliament that day the position of the Opposition and
of the possibility that the Independent Senators would not
participate in the JSC.
No chance to talk
Yet, with no opportunity to speak with members of his Cabinet,
the PM was able to say he was authorised by his government
to announce the appointment of a COE.
It could not be that the AG and other PNM ministers knew of
the PMs intention, and went ahead with their presentations
arguing against it.
Furthermore, if the PM had just been finally persuaded that
to have a COE, how was it that he had the 12 terms of reference
ready and a chairman named to announce to the nation in the
Who drafted the terms of reference? It was not something,
given the detailed and technical references to procurement
practices, that could have been thought of at the spur of
One would have thought the Governments legal adviser,
the AG, should have been the person to draft/finalise the
terms of reference of any COE the Government is to establish.
It is evident, to me at least, that the PM came to Parliament
on Friday with the settled intention to announce the appointment
of a COE.
He would have consulted with Mr Gordon Deane beforehand as
to his availability to head the COE. He would have had the
terms of reference drawn up.
These he kept in his proverbial back pocket ready to spring
on the Opposition as he did, effectively stealing their thunder.
The PM may think he has outmanoeuvred his political opponents
and in the process secured public goodwill in agreeing to
What he appears not to have considered is the fallout in so
obviously undermining members of his Cabinet and demonstrating
he believes he is the only one that matters.